Banksy set to raise millions to transform Reading prison into an arts centre

The anonymous artist plans to raise £13 million by selling a stencil used to paint Create Escape, a mural on the side of the building depicting a prisoner escaping down bedsheets.

7 December 2021


Back in March, the renowned (and still anonymous) graffiti artist Banksy painted the wall of the Reading prison in Bristol, revealing a mural of a prisoner escaping down a rope of bedsheets named Create Escape. After the prison was decommissioned in 2013, the building is set to be sold and developed into housing; Banksy has now offered to raise the funds to purchase the old prison and transform it into an arts centre.

From artist to campaigner, it’s been reported by The Guardian that Banksy hopes to match the prison’s asking price of £10 million. The artist intends to sell the stencil used for Create Escape, which was recently put on display at the Bristol Museum and Art Gallery as part of an exhibition by Grayson Perry for his Channel 4 series Grayson’s Art Club.

The prison itself beholds many histories. Not only is it built on the site of the Reading Abbey, but it’s also where Oscar Wilde was once held, who was imprisoned between 1985 and 1897 for “gross indecency” when his affair with Lord Alfred Douglas was exposed, as stated by The Guardian. Banksy told the paper that Wilde was “the patron saint of smashing two contrasting ideas together to create magic. Converting the place that destroyed him into a refuge for art feels so perfect we have to do it.”

Banksy has popped up countless times here at It’s Nice That, from a spree of seaside works around Britain – where the artist filmed the public’s response – to a six-figure-worth artwork in the Welsh town of Port Talbot and the time he opened his own store. In Banksy’s latest campaign, the offer – which will sit alongside Reading borough council’s existing bid – will bring the former jail to an estimated £12.6 million. The Guardian has also reported that actors Dame Judi Dench, Sir Kenneth Branagh, Kate Winslet and Natalie Dormer are in support of the campaign.

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Image courtesy of Banksy

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About the Author

Ayla Angelos

Ayla is a London-based freelance writer, editor and consultant specialising in art, photography, design and culture. After joining It’s Nice That in 2017 as editorial assistant, she was interim online editor in 2022/2023 and continues to work with us on a freelance basis. She has written for i-D, Dazed, AnOther, WePresent, Port, Elephant and more, and she is also the managing editor of design magazine Anima. 

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